By Micah Roberts
|Greg Biffle one of 14 drivers to top 200 mph Friday at Michigan (Getty)|
Greg Biffle’s lap of 204.708 mph was the fastest NASCAR lap ever recorded at Michigan International Speedway. Biffle snatched the top time in the final minute of Friday’s 80-minute final practice session in preparation for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400.
The lap itself was a thing of beauty and appeared aided by forces of the draft through one of the turns. Michigan’s new pavement is faster than what the drivers and NASCAR Officials might have initially figured. Biffle’s speed was almost 3 mph faster than Tony Stewart’s top speed Thursday during a test session that had been the fastest.
14 drivers topped topped 200 mph after only 10 did it in the early practice. Only eight different drivers reached that figure in six hours of testing on Thursday.
Just like Biffle, Marcos Ambrose's Ford showed a great improvement in the final practice compared to the earlier session by running the second fastest lap at 203.551 mph. Biffle had been 15th best in the early session while Ambrose was 26th.
Kevin Harvick had been mired in 32nd for most of the session while in race trim, but laid down the third fastest lap in a late mock-qualifying run.
One of the bigger improvements from the morning session was Carl Edwards who finished with the fourth fastest lap giving Ford three of the four fastest speeds. Paul Menard was fifth fastest while running 41 laps.
Mark Martin (64) ran the most laps of the session followed by Ryan Newman (58), Jeff Gordon (55) and Kasey Kahne (55).
Biffle had the top average speed (199.642), but only ran 14 laps in small doses. His teammate, Matt Kenseth, ran 41 laps with a strong average of 196.429 mph. All the Fords came out flexing their muscles in this session, including Trevor Bayne who finished 6th fastest making four of the five top-6 speeds coming from Fords.
It’s been a six race drought at Michigan for the Roush-Fenway drivers, but it’s not a place we can expect it to last long. The current crop of Roush drivers have six Michigan wins between them and Jack Roush has 11 overall as a car-owner.
One the unknown variables that has shown its face due to the high speeds gained on the new pavement has been tire wear. It was a major concern throughout the garage during the final session.
Kahne went 16 straight laps on one run and when his crew inspected the tires afterwards, he had a huge blister built up on the left front tire. Martin Truex Jr went 18 straight laps and came away with blistered left side tires, on both front and back. Mark Martin had blisters on both left side tires, but also had it happening as well on the right rear causing perhaps even more concern than most.
In addition to the new high speeds, tire wear looks like it will play out as being one of the major storylines of Sunday’s race.
On the stretch that Kahne got blistered, he was also was in the middle of running the third fastest 10 consecutive lap average. Kenseth was second in the category and Dale Earnhardt Jr was fastest.
Earnhardt Jr has been performed at a high level over the last two days of testing and practice and it could be argued that he has never had a Hendrick Motorsports car this good before a non-restrictor-plate race. It’s been 144 races since Junior last won and it came on Fathers Day at Michigan four years ago.
Should Junior finally win, not only would it be a great gesture to the memory of his own Father, but also to the millions of Fathers proudly wearing his gear in the NASCAR Nation waiting for the drought to end. It sure would beat a new tie or the Wranglers that most Dads will receive as a gift this Sunday.
Top-5 Michigan Practice 2 Speeds:
1) Greg Biffle 204.708 mph
2) Marcos Ambrose 203.551
3) Kevin Harvick 202.954
4) Carl Edwards 202.943
5) Paul Menard 201.737
Michigan Practice 2 Speeds
Audio: Biffle Talks About Fast Lap
Michigan Practice 2 Average Speeds
Driver Quotes Regarding Tire Issues
KEVIN HARVICK: “Yes, they were blisters, mainly on the left-side tires more on the left-front than the left-rear and along with the right-rear. That is our biggest concern right now is we’ve seen several of those situations through the garage. I don’t know that many people ran enough laps to really get to the blistering point. It’s either going to come down to the race track getting more rubber on it and the speeds slowing down or it’s just going to come down to you slowing down and managing the pace to keep the tires on the car.”
TONY STEWART: “Not that I’m aware of. I don’t think we had any problems yesterday. We are not worrying about that right now.”
CARL EDWARDS: “I don’t think we have had any tire issues. We haven’t had any of that. We haven’t had the trouble and hopefully we don’t. We do not need tire issues right now.”
Martin Fastest in First Session, Junior's Strong Showing Continues
By Micah Roberts
For the second consecutive week, Mark Martin has been the master of the new surface setting the pace in the first practice session with the fastest lap. Last week it was Pocono, this week, it’s Michigan where Martin went 201.376 mph to top the charts and looking sharp for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400.
Martin ran only 15 laps in practice, but did get plenty of track time Thursday in testing where he was fastest as well in one of the sessions. After seeing Martin finish runner-up last week at Pocono and adding what he’s done the last two days, Martin should be the favorite to win Sunday. It would be his sixth win all-time at Michigan, but first on the sleek new pavement.
|Martin has been fast everywhere the last two weeks (Getty)|
42 drivers beat the track qualifying record (194.232) set by Ryan Newman in 2005.
Keeping in line with a quality practice, a day after being fast in testing, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran 32 laps finding his fastest lap (201.061) late in the session, good enough for second-fastest. Trevor Bayne ran 16 laps and was third best (200.770) followed by Tony Stewart (200.736) and Matt Kenseth (200.574),
Greg Biffle ran 37 laps while running the 15th fastest lap. He was the second fastest Ford behind Kenseth. Carl Edwards had the 18th quickest lap. Expect Biffle to be better in the final practice because of running well in Thursday testing. Hopefully, Edwards’ team is discussing speed with Kenseth’s
Marcos Ambrose ran the most lap of the session (43), but couldn’t find enough speed to better his 26th standing. Kevin Harvick was very strong in testing, but only had the 32nd best lap while running 40 laps.
A couple other notables that didn’t run well for some reason were Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski had a career best of third-place at his home track of Michigan last fall, but could only come up with a speed of 194.695, the 40th fastest. Johnson is still searching for that first Michigan win, but the 32nd fastest lap can’t have them feeling too confident.
Only three drivers ran 10 consecutive laps or more with Johnson leading the way.
We’ll see what happens in the final session.
Top-5 Michigan Practice 1 Speeds:
1) Mark Martin 201.376 mph
2) Dale Earnhardt Jr. 200.803
3) Trevor Bayne 200.700
4) Tony Stewart 200.736
5) Matt Kenseth 200.574
Michigan Practice 1 Speeds